July 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Frisch Student’s Reflections on the Trip to Cuba

I never thought I’d be so grateful for towels or toilet paper. Being born into a privileged community, I’ll admit I do take most things for granted. And when my parents sometimes suggest that I’m not grateful, I don’t really ponder it. I know I can get pretty much anything when I really need it.

My recent experience on our class humanitarian trip to Cuba, however, was really eye-opening. I know people live in poverty, but this trip made that thought a real image in my mind, especially since it also affects the Jewish community. From the absence of toilet paper in the bathrooms to the lack of towels in the hotel, I was suddenly in an alternate world.

Throughout the trip we walked along the streets and learned about the culture there. The city’s buildings are colorful, along with the colorful old cars being driven on the streets. Our guide told us that cars are sent to Cuba broken and cheap, and then the Cubans fix them. We visited a school, and watched as a math class was being taught. When I came home I explained to my parents that they used chalkboards and no technology, to which they chuckled. All the kids had matching uniforms, which our guide explained was for the purpose of everyone looking and feeling the same. Their grade level was differentiated by the color of their scarves.

I really enjoyed visiting the Jewish centers there. We visited a Sephardic and Ashkenazic center, however the community’s Jewish leader, William, explained that there really is no difference and that they are dependent on each other. They told us about how they hold services on Shabbat, and showed us three Torahs they have in the Aron, two of which they said were over 100 years old.

We ate lunch with a group of Jewish seniors. Although a little difficult, we tried our best to speak in Spanish and learn about their families and lifestyles. We donated a bunch of the medicine we had brought to the Jewish community, which William told us the seniors rely on. They are elderly and need medicine and don’t have access to it. A single Tylenol capsule can sell for $2.

Later in our trip we visited the Ashkenazic center. We were shown their Jewish library, which contained 14,000 books in seven different languages, pictures of kids getting bar and bat mitzvah, pictures of the community celebrating holidays, a classroom where the little kids learn, and the shul. The woman who was telling us about the center told us that they have a rabbi flown in from Chile when a child is becoming a bar/bat mitzvah because the community does not have a rabbi of their own.

A group of young Jewish Cubans taught us salsa and a rikud dance. Interestingly, the college-aged Cubans explained to us that many of them hope to make aliyah as soon as they finish university. At first we didn’t understand how they could leave, to which they explained that Israel pays Cuba to allow the Cuban Jews to come to Israel.

We also visited a Jewish cemetery, where there was a Holocaust memorial. Many Jews came to Cuba after the Holocaust. There were many stones placed on the graves by people who have visited in recent months.

Towards the end of a trip William took us to visit a group of non-Jewish seniors. He explained that they never get visitors (it has been around four years) and that the people were so excited. This was one of my highlights of the trip. They were so happy and had such great energy. One of the women was dancing with us and told us she was 90; we were quite impressed. We ate lunch with them and they were so excited to have food given to them.

Throughout the trip I realized how much the Cubans value what is given to them. They picked up our discarded bottles and filled them with the leftover juice to take home for later. Our tour guide had explained earlier that food was rationed there, so no matter how many people were in your family you got the same amount of food.

We also visited two extended Jewish families at their homes. Their living conditions were really shocking. There was mold growing on the walls. I couldn’t believe people were living in these conditions: multiple generations of a family living in a small home, while I have a whole room to myself.

When we were leaving, we gave a duffle bag full of supplies to the employees at the hotel. When we came down with the duffle bag and told them they could take it, they looked shocked. They couldn’t believe what we were giving them. When we gave our tour guide two Costco-sized bottles of Tylenol, she didn’t know how to thank us; she was almost in tears. It felt so good to be able to help people.

This trip really helped expose me to a different culture and situation of living. So what did I learn? Gracias a Dios por todo lo que tenemos. Y, no olvides el papel higiénico. (Be grateful for everything we have, and don’t forget the toilet paper).

By Leah Abrahams

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles